The Tokyo metropolitan government's revised ordinance recognizing the partnerships of sexual minorities took effect Tuesday, joining several other prefectural governments in equally treating sexual minority couples in administrative and other public services.
Japan does not legally recognize same-sex marriage, but couples who obtain a certificate under the so-called Tokyo Partnership Oath System will be able to, for instance, apply for municipal housing and include their children's names on their partnership certificates.
Despite the increase in the number of Japanese municipalities recognizing same-sex partnerships in recent years, Japan remains the only Group of Seven country not to do so at the national level.
"The launch of the system must drive social change," Soyoka Yamamoto, who heads activist group Partnership Act for Tokyo, said at a press conference. "Let this system serve as a catalyst to spearhead efforts to achieve a society where sexual minorities are equally protected."
While praising the significance of the move, Fumino Sugiyama, a co-chair of Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which organizes the capital's yearly LGBTQ pride events, said there are three kinds of legislation still needed to improve conditions for sexual minorities in Japan.
"One is the freedom to marry, the other is a ban on discrimination and the third is easing the conditions required for gender reassignment," Sugiyama said, referring to the sterilization procedures that transgender people in Japan must undergo if they seek to legally change their gender.
In June, the Osaka District Court dismissed a damages lawsuit claiming the government's denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional, but the Sapporo District Court ruled last year the government's failure to amend laws to recognize same-sex marriage violates the right to equality.
Noting a ruling on another damages lawsuit slated to be handed down on Nov. 30 by the Tokyo District Court, Gon Matsunaka, also a member of Partnership Act for Tokyo, said, "With the new system, the Tokyo government has acknowledged same sex partnerships and it will have a tremendous impact on court decisions going forward."
With a population of over 14 million, Tokyo is by far the most populated jurisdiction in Japan to implement such a system for sexual minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The metropolitan government began accepting applications for a partnership certificate under the new system in mid-October, with applicants having the choice to conduct the process online to protect their identities.
As of Tuesday, 115 such certificates had been issued, according to a metropolitan government official.
Nine Japanese prefectures -- Aomori, Akita, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Mie, Osaka, Fukuoka and Saga -- have already introduced a partnership system for sexual minorities.